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Why the bill is needed

One man, and three cases of leading people into slavery. one of the reasons why a strong antitrafficking law is essential for the vulnerable

The importance of a strong anti-trafficking law can be seen with the recent case of rescued bonded labourers. The recruiter, Ashok Reddy, is a serial offender, with two pending trials against him, yet he managed to get a third batch of people trapped, mostly from the Chenchu tribe in Telangana.

The 45 persons were rescued from a canal construction site in Nagerkurnool district of Telangana on August 1. The group, which included 13 children and 15 women, were rescued by a committee appointed by the Judicial Magistrate court.

It all happened a little differently from the norm — which sees a District Magistrate or Sub Divisional

Magistrate given authority to conduct a rescue and inquiry. Here, an advocate, Brundhadhar Rao, approached the court, filing a complaint and also becoming “party in person, to establish the locus standi.” He used a provision under Section 97 CrPC to get the court to issue a search warrant.

“On July 31, around 7 pm, we went to the place where the victims were staying and asked if they were facing problems. They were, several.” The perpetrator had paid the 17 families an advance which ranged from R10,000 to R30,000. They had been working for nine months without any wage, surviving on rice and rasam. Drinking water was scant, with only the muddy rainwater that had collected in pool, providing for their daily needs. There was no facility for educating the children and no set working hours.

“We then produced them at 9 pm at the residence of the judge”, Rao tells us, with the rescue taking place smoothly the next day. While the labourers should soon get their Release Certificates, the perpetrator is still absconding.

With two cases against him still pending, it shows just how the present laws have not helped justice to be delivered or work as a deterrent. The previous cases against Reddy are from 2016, one where he had lured people for road construction work in Karnataka, and second where he took people to Rajasthan, again for road construction. In both cases, the sections slapped on him are the Schedule Cast and Schedule Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. A CHANGE IN LAW The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, which has been passed by Lok Sabha, hopes to make the fight against trafficking stronger, and cover all loopholes that let people to get away with abuse. It will be India’ first comprehensive antitrafficking law, which will finally take concrete steps to fight an abuse that is taking place systematically in the county. The government’s plan to rescue 18.4 million bonded labourers by 2030, provides a view of how rampant the problem is.

The bill prescribes strict penalties for various offences of trafficking, with punishment for aggravated trafficking, like bonded labour, punishable with a rigorous imprisonment of 10 years up to life imprisonment, along with a minimum fine of one lakh rupees. The bill provides for setting up of designated courts in each district, which will seek to complete trial within a year. In Reddy’s case, if the case would have gone to trial and seen him convicted, the others who got caught in the net of bondage, could have been spared. What is also very important in the bill is the setting up of a national anti-trafficking bureau. The major source states of bonded labour in the country are Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh, and the biggest destination states are Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh. Thus an inter-state link-up is one of the most important aspects of such a mission.

But a state-wide bureau will perhaps not be able to stringently check each and every person leaving the district. That is why the bill says an AntiTrafficking Unit will be established at district level, so that there is a major impact. All cases of bonded labour do not take place in big numbers, sometimes it’s a lone boy or a girl or two.

One example is of a few adolescents Patriot met, who had been taken from their homes and put to work as shepherds. One of them was Mohan from Madhya Pradesh. When his father fell ill he was sent to work to look after sheep, rearing, and grazing them. The 15-year-olds family was paid an advance of R5,000 for him to work for a month but was not freed until seven months later, when found by rescue workers.

Mohan says he and another boy called Dilip, were made to work night and day, sometimes they would not stop to rest. From Madhya Pradesh, they reached Rajasthan. In all this time, he says, they were fed only dry rotis and chillies, while the boss ate well. They were made to sleep on the ground, even when it was wet. He kept repeating, during our conversation, that they would be beaten frequently.

When abuse takes place on a small scale too, the role of the district police comes into play and also for people to become aware of their rights. Thus, an early passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha, is important, as highlighted by 1,000 survivors of human trafficking in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The survivors wrote: “At some desperate moment of our life, we were lured with a hope of better life and forced to become a labourer without rights, a bride who was raped, a girl who was sold like groceries, a beggar, a farm for organ harvesting and what not. The traffickers tortured us, beat us, gave us drugs, transported us like cattle and did everything possible to break our spirit, just for money…but we survived,” and having witnessed crimes first hand, they want to ensure it happens to no one else.

This report is part of NFI’s National Media Awards Programme.